With the disgust of a father coming to terms with the disgraceful actions of his own children, UFC president Dana White addressed the media late Saturday in Las Vegas following a dark melee which stained the close of Khabib Nurmagomedov's victory over Conor McGregor.
"I've been doing this for 18 years, and this is the biggest night ever, and I couldn't be more disappointed," White said. "You know me, I'm usually mad at everything. [Tonight] I'm not really mad, I'm just disappointed.
"This is still one of the biggest moments of my career, and I should feel a lot better right now than I do. We should be celebrating right now. I don't give a shit how many pay-per-views [buys] we have done right now. I don't care. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart it has been all I talked about all week, and now, I don't give a shit."
A week-long celebration of UFC 229 being the biggest card in mixed martial arts history -- with White extending his PPV buy prediction based upon internal numbers to an astounding 3.5 million -- ended with a dramatic and largely one-sided victory for Nurmagomedov in defense of his UFC lightweight title.
But the repugnant brawl that followed, initiated by Nurmagomedov's leftover contempt for McGregor and his team following the most contentious build in UFC history, quickly turned T-Mobile Arena into an unsafe environment for fighters, personnel and fans alike.
What should have been a series of post fight narratives focused on Nurmagomedov's ascent to the top of the pound-for-pound throne and McGregor's rather pedestrian performance following a two-year layoff was instead replaced by an endless loop of videos capturing the brawl from various angles.
Let's get a pair of indisputable facts out of the way: First, this was nothing short of a black eye for UFC and the sport of MMA. Second, Nurmagomedov (27-0) deserves the unquestioned majority of blame for inciting a riot in lieu of basking in the glory of his biggest victory like the respectful man of honor he has been for much of his career.
Furthermore, both White and UFC were able to escape -- narrowly, mind you -- the kind of putrid stain to their brand that dissuades sponsors and forcibly pushes a sport from the front page to the status of damaged niche that UFC once knew all too well. That line is an incredibly precarious one to walk. Just ask the sport of boxing, which was effectively declared persona non grata from network television and the public eye after nasty brawls following Riddick Bowe-Andrew Golota I in 1996 and Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson II in 1997 led to riots in the crowd.
It can be argued that it took boxing nearly two decades to return consistently to mainstream television (although there were multiple competing factors). Yet it can't be overlooked how big of a bullet UFC dodged by coming so painfully close to seeing its paying customers, including a who's who of A-list celebrities in the front rows, injured due to the belligerence of its own fighters.
The same can certainly be said for the incident that fueled the beef between fighters and created UFC 229's opportunity for record-breaking sales -- McGregor's reckless felony attack on a bus holding Nurmagomedov in Brooklyn, New York, that injured two UFC fighters and a company employee, affecting four separate bouts at UFC 223. Not surprisingly, that incident doubles as the root of Saturday's problems.
While seemingly nothing can make Nuramagomedov's actions acceptable or justified, they are far from shocking. Not after a fight promotion that was built upon the sensationalizing of felony assault and the escalating acrimony between the fighters' camps and the fans of their respective home countries.
Speaking after the incident, White defended his constant use of footage showing McGregor's maniacal attack as promotion, calling it "the story of the fight." But UFC's decision to sensationalize the very real tension between camps gambled on the hope that all parties involved would have the self-control to operate as sportsman and keep the fighting to the sanctioned grounds of the Octagon.
"What Khabib should have done [after the fight] is pick Conor up, pull him up from the ground and hug him," White said. "Even if you're the biggest Conor fan ever, you at least have to respect it. [Nurmagomedov] won the fight, and he looked great doing it. He had the opportunity to walk out of that place a champion and look like a stud. It should have been a very different night."